Lemon Love Notes

Happy Memorial Day!

It is HOT out today, which is partly why I abandoned my plans of making a red, white and blue dessert (I will make this for the Fourth of July holiday instead) and opted for something a little more refreshing - Lemon Love Notes!

Although this dessert does not represent the colors of our flag, it is yellow; and yellow is the color of the yellow awareness ribbon meaning "Armed forces return". Since Memorial Day exists as a day to honor those who have died while serving this country, I feel it is fitting that while we are honoring those lost, it is also fitting to honor those currently serving and to hope that they return safely.

If you love lemon, you will love these. If you love coconut you will love these. Aaand, since I know there are soo many of you who do not like coconut... I have a version of these summer delights that even you will love!! Everyone happy now?

Lemon Love Notes
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3 cup confectioners sugar
1 egg
1-1/3 cup coconut*
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel ...or... 2-1/2 teaspoons lemon concentrate
1/4 cup lemon concentrate
3 drops yellow food coloring (optional)

*This recipe is very tasty without coconut too, so feel free to leave this ingredient out - no substitutions or modifications need to be made if you omit the coconut.

1. Grease one 8x10 inch pan and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Beat in a bowl: salt, butter, and 1 cup sugar.
3. Add egg to butter mixture, then add flour.
4. Stir in 1 cup coconut and 1 tablespoon lemon peel (or 2-1/2 teaspoons concentrate).
5. Spread on pan, bake 30-35 minutes (until golden brown).

1. Beat together: 2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup lemon concentrate, and food dye (optional).
2. Spread sugar and lemon mixture on top, then sprinkle 1/3 cup coconut on top of glaze.
3. Cool completely. Enjoy!


Wow, so much has happened in this past week! For starters, I graduated from college. These past four years I have been studying for my Bachelors Degree in Health and Environmental Studies at Luther College in the cute little town of Decorah, Iowa. I know what you are thinking... why the heck did I go to Iowa? Well, this place is beautiful... not your average flat, endless corn-field Iowa. Decorah has endless bluffs, springs, valleys... it's beautiful. If you ever have the chance to visit this place... do it! Decorah is like the mecca of local foods too... A-mazing! Aaand, it is home to the best little food cooperative I have ever set foot in! I can honestly say that the saddest thing about leaving this little town is that (besides no longer living near some of the best gals anyone could ever meet - ahem, Anna, Julia, and Steph!), I am no longer a member of the Oneota Community Food Coop... removing my membership from this amazing coop was so sad that it actually brought tears to my eyes. Yes, I can be emotional at times, but still... this was a big deal!

So now I am settled back into my little apartment in Hopkins, Minnesota and am very happy to have my kitchen and kitten back. She's such a goof...

So of course, with graduation season here and all, there are cakes abound! Wahoo! My boyfriend's little brother is graduating from high school this year, so I will be making the graduation cake for his party during the first weekend of June. He requested a marble cake and since I have a wicked awesome chocolate cake recipe, I wanted to make sure it went well when 'marbled' (yep, making a new term up here!) with my yellow cake recipe. Ooooh I loove experimenting in the kitchen!!

In my mind, the moistness of a cake can make or break it... basically, cakes are never moist or chocolatey (yep, another new word) enough. So a while back, when I originally started putting my chocolate cake recipe together, I made sure that I took care of that problem!

Being that I am such a chocolaholic, I have not used my yellow cake recipe as much as the chocolate cake recipe... which means I also needed to experiment a bit more with the yellow cake recipe. The key to making my chocolate cake so moist is the hot coffee (and it has to be hot!). I have found that by adding this pippin' hot ingredient, not only does using coffee accent the rich chocolate flavor of the cake, but the high temperature also helps blend all the dry ingredients together.

I believe so strongly in this hot coffee technique, that I'm even using the last of my Oneota Coop coffee beans. Ahh!

I knew I either wanted to add hot milk or hot coffee and in the end, I decided to go with the coffee because, well... how awesome if the secret ingredient in my yellow cake could be coffee?! (F.Y.I. - I love coffee)

In the end however, I found that while adding hot coffee to your yellow cake recipe does improve the moistness, it also dampens the flavor the cake gets from the eggs... making the yellow cake not taste so much like a yellow cake. It's tasty, but it's not yellow cake. So, I will be using hot milk the next time I make yellow cake.

So the next day, after the cake had a night to rest, I began the fondant expedition! Some of you may remember my previous fiasco with fondant, and for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about... good. Lets keep it that way! One of my first blog posts documents that horrific fiasco... yikes. All I am going to say is that it was bad and you should never try to take the easy way out when making fondant. Anyway, I now have the proper ingredients (glucose syrup and glycerin), which made all the difference.

I have heard that you can use corn syrup in place of the glucose syrup but after my last fiasco, I didn't want to cut any corners. The biggest key to workable fondant is that you don't knead the fondant for too long - the fondant will begin to crack and will lose its play-doh like qualities.

Also, be careful with the food coloring. A little goes a long way. I went with neon blue for this cake and it only took five drops to accomplish this orchid-blue... yay!

Once I finished draping fondant onto the cake, I decided to play around with some Ghirardelli chocolate... because I just couldn't resist.

Although this cake was mainly used as a test run for my marble cake and fondant recipe, I had to decorate it. Using wax paper that's been taped to a paper printed with my template, I put melted Ghirardelli chocolates into a squeeze bottle and traced the template onto wax paper. A word of advice: it is best to use candy melts to do this but since I loove the taste of these 60% cocoa chips, I couldn't resist! (the candy melts will dry hard and stay that way, but the cocoa chips take forever to set and will easily melt at room temperature or when touched).

By the way, my kitten Lila has a fortress on top of the cabinets in the kitchen. She watched this whole process. She thinks I'm crazy.

The next decoration on this cake was not edible, but I was getting tired and am not great at making edible flowers (not yet anyway! - I will be attending a class on this soon, yay!).

I used pins and artificial flowers...

They turned out well. I put golden luster dust on the cake and the flowers... it looks better in person than in the pictures...

Lastly, I wrapped a little yellow streamer around the bottom half of the cake's rim to match the golden luster dust. I have been obsessed with combining yellow and blue lately.

There you have it! I finally put together a reliable, from-scratch fondant recipe. Ta-da!!

Ladybugs and Flower Power

Outlining and flooding sugar cookies with royal icing was the task of this week. I am finally finishing my last two weeks of college so have postponed the fondant until I graduate (May 22, wahoo!).

If you want cleanly detailed cookies, royal icing is the best way to go. For those of you who have only had the pleasure of eating royal icing: meringue (i.e. egg whites) is one of the main ingredients. As with any recipe where raw eggs are used, there is always the risk of salmonella so meringue powder is often recommended, particularly if cooking for a large crowd where older adults and children may be present. The down side to meringue powder however is the flavor. There is this rich, sweet taste to royal icing when you use real egg whites and the texture is soft and creamy. Not that meringue powder tastes terrible, but there's no doubting the deliciousness of fresh, from-scratch ingredients.

Speaking of from-scratch ingredients, my garden seedlings are anxious to get into the ground and I am anxious to dig in the dirt. Three more weeks before the soil will be ready for me though so until then, creating a sweet bouquet of flowers must remain strictly kitchen business...

With my college commencement rapidly approaching, the campus has been springing to life as the grounds crew grooms the campus to perfection. There are so many flowers blooming on campus that you don't even have to bend towards a blossom to smell the sweetness, this is definitely my favorite time of the year.

There is a cute little kitchen supply store here in Decorah, Iowa called Ace the Kitchen Place. In fact, it's the only kitchen supply store in little Decorah... and they have one of the best collections of cookie cutters I have ever seen. Just to give you an idea of how extravagant some of the cookie cutters at this place are, I will simply tell you that recently, at a friend's wedding, one of the gifts just so happened to resemble one of her favorite animals... it was a goat cookie cutter!

Not that I'm making any goat cookies here, but I did find a fun design do go with my flowers...

Ladybugs! ...and no, these are NOT those pesky, stinky Asian Lady Beetles, these are Ladybugs... big difference.

So outlining and flooding...
this refers to a process where you start with a stiff royal icing and pipe an outline for each color you are going to use on the cookie. After you have outlined the border for each color on the cookie and there are no holes in the outline, you thin the royal icing and "flood" each compartment with it's respectful color.

I was originally going to make a sunflower but in the end, couldn't bring myself to do it - sunflowers and I have a bad relationship at the moment. You see, a couple months ago I planted some little seedlings that will eventually go into my garden. These seedlings are currently in one of the campus greenhouses. Because these seedlings are not for a research project or anything directly beneficial to the college, I was given permission to use the greenhouse only if I kept my little seedlings on the floor. This was fine with me however little did I know, one of the professors has been performing a research study on sunflowers. It's quite pretty actually, the entire greenhouse is filled with sunflowers and my little seedlings are lying beneath them (and still getting plenty of light). I began to notice little splotches on my seedlings' leaves however - the kind of splotches that typically develop where herbicide or a strong fertilizer is spilled. I can only assume that the sunflowers my poor little seedlings used to be under, were being given some sort of fertilizer treatment and while I do not have any direct evidence of this, I do know that those sunflowers are going to be guilty until proven innocent! (pounding fist on desk)

But enough about my seedlings, I am sure that you will hear more about them soon enough as I expect I will have them in the ground within the next three weeks and will have stories and organic gardening tips for you then.

The lady bugs were rushed so they didn't turn out as nicely as the flowers. See the ladybug's dots? When forming flat dots, you place the black dots on the red icing before it completely sets. It is good to wait about 30-45 seconds between flooding and placing your dots. If you try to put the dots on too soon, the two colors will bleed - you can see this by looking at the ladybug above. The black and red on the left wing bled together while the dots on the right were perfect.

Also, it is important that you don't mix the royal icing too much - there needs to be a happy medium. Not enough mixing and you won''t form the nice stiff peaks necessary for the proper texture and shiny look, but if you mix too much (as I did with the red), you will have a soft, spongy royal icing that appears slightly bubbly (i.e. not smooth and shiny) and never properly sets.

For those of you who have read this far down... the two most important rules when making sugar cookies are that you:
  1. Keep it thick - don't roll the dough too thin, when have you ever eaten a cookie and said, "mmm... I love how skinny and tiny this cookie is"...?
  2. Use real ingredients whenever possible, there is no question that making something from scratch using fresh, unprocessed ingredients is going to taste better.

Lastly, my Royal Icing Recipe uses real egg whites and covers roughly two dozen cookies:

2 egg whites
1 t. vanilla (if you want white icing, either omit the vanilla or use clear white vanilla extract)
4 c. powdered sugar

1.) Beat egg whites and vanilla until foamy.
2.) Add powdered sugar gradually until shiny.
3.) Beat until mixture forms stiff peaks.

Note: A good way to make sure that your peaks are stiff enough is by dipping a spatula into the mixture and pulling it out to form a peak. Then wiggle the bowl slightly - if the tip of the peak falls over, keep beating but if the tip of the peak stays pointing straight up, you're good to go!

Happy Mother's Day, It's Cake Bite Time!

This weekend I made a lot of food: my grandma's butter rolls, a summery fruit salad (mmm kiwi and mango!), locally grown steak marinated with teriyaki and ginger, and homemade ice cream! I made cake bites as the kick-off to this whole food festival. A cake bite is similar to a cake pop but isn't on a stick. It's like a truffle but is made of cake and covered in a candy coating. Like cake pops, a cake bite can be shaped into anything from a simple ball to looking like an apple, flower, duck, you name it!

For these bites, the balls were again made of crumbled cake and frosting. To make the ridges around the bottom half like a real cupcake, I poured melted cocoa candy coating into a mold that looks like a mini peanut butter cup. After pouring the candy coating into the molds, I placed the previously formed and cooled cake balls on top of the wet candy melt...

After placing the tray into the freezer for a couple minutes to let the candy melts harden, voila!

After forming the mini cupcake bottom for these cake bites, it was time to add some color! Remember the orchid purple from my basic cake pops? Well... deja vu!

This part was a bit tricky, you have to hold onto the chocolate bottom and dunk the top half of the cake bite into the melted purple candy melts. This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that the cocoa candy melt will start melting under your fingers... which means no more cocoa candy ridges for you! Instead, as suggested in Cake Pops (where you can get the full details of this recipe), if you wear cloth candy gloves the ridges will be A-Ok. Unfortunately, these gloves are on my wishlist and therefore... I became a wickedly fast cake bite dipper!

My transition from the purple to the cocoa candy melts wasn't the smoothest but...

The cake bites were still irresistible!

Now I realize I promised that I would make fondant this weekend, but one thing led to another and... well, you will hear about my fondant expedition by the end of this coming week! (ohh the suspense!)

Happy Mother's Day!!

The Three Rules of Eating in the Twin Cities

Who loves scrumptious cupcakes, cookies and cake?! How about ice cream?! Local meat?! Yep, that's what I thought. Mee too!

Now that I have been living in the twin cities area for a little over a year, I have discovered a couple rules to eating well...

Rule number one: If you want local meat (which is the only kind of meat you will ever see me eat), Clancey's is the place to go. Located in Linden Hills near the quaint little coop and a Great Harvest, this is a fun place to go for an afternoon (or day!) of good eats. Not only does this place bring in fresh, local meat but everything is seasoned in store with some of the most mouth-watering concoctions you can imagine. Some of the best in my book are: pork sirloin with mustard and fennel seed and German-style bratwursts; then there's beef seasoned with blue cheese and green onion, mushroom and swiss, or even bacon and cheddar. This place even has a rotating menu and makes sandwiches on the spot so you can have a hardy lunch while picking up meat for later. (Image courtesy of Heavy Table)

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Rule number two: If you want ice cream, either convince my boyfriend to share some of his homemade ice cream with you or take yourself over to the Grand Ole Creamery on Grand Avenue. If you haven't been to Grand Avenue, then I suggest you take yourself there the next warm sunny day! There are tons of cute little specialty shops lining the street, with the Grand Ole Creamery on one end. You'll know when you're getting close to this place though because you'll smell their made-from-scratch sugar waffle cones on the waffle iron (my favorite part!). The awesome factor gets kicked up a notch when you go to take that last bite of your cone - there's always a little whopper in the bottom of your cone to keep the ice cream from running out if there's a tiny hole. I like to call this the ice cream cone hole-plugger! (Image courtesy of CBS Minnesota)

Rule number three: The absolute best place to get lunch, dinner, and dessert in the twin cities is at Yum! This place has the most amazing veggie sandwich I have ever had (and I've had my fair share of veggie sandwich concoctions!). I know it's basic, but this sandwich is just so darn good when you are sitting in the dinning area and you know that after you finish your amazing sandwich, you are going to go over and pick out an amazing cupcake... or cookie... or cake... or all of the above! There is also a full-service coffee bar here which makes things even better. I have yet to visit this restaurant in the morning, but it's definitely on my to-do list once I graduate.

This first cupcake is a moist chocolate with angel fluff filling and a fudge layer of chocolate amazingness on top...

Next was my boyfriend's pick - a ginormous cookie... wait no, TWO ginormous cookies with what I think was a buttercream filling inside? Can't be too sure... that one disappeared too fast. P.s. this picture does NOT do justice to the size of these cookies - they were larger than my hand!

...and last but by all means, NOT least (drum-roll)... the moistest chocolate cupcake EVER with an incredibly fluffy raspberry fluff on top (so jealous... if only my fluffs were so fluffy!). Oh, and let's not forget about the fresh raspberry on top!

Yum indeed! During my most recent visit I also had a lemon meringue cupcake - a vanilla cupcake with lemon meringue filling, lemon buttercream fluff, and a lemon-head candy as the cherry on top. As you can see by the lack of a photo for that one... I ate it without thinking to take a picture. I could not resist!

Now that I have shared my favorite places to get the goods, I want to know where your favorite place is to fix that sweet tooth, have a veggie sandwich, or to just get some all-around good eats!
What is your favorite eatery?

The Start of a Cake Pop Romance

Time for a reunion! With summer drawing closer and closer every day, I am antsy to get back to my kitchen. I have some fun experiments and tasks ahead, so I suggest you grab on for the ride!

Wayy back when, in February actually, my friend Anna had a birthday. Luckily, I am better at making sweets and getting them to my friends on their birthday than I am about telling you about those sweets on time! I am currently finishing my last semester of college and therefore am in a house with a bunch of nuts-o people who are really good are talking like valley girls and never turning lights off (currently, one of them is confused by how the microwave burned her popcorn) Don't worry honey, small and easy steps, you are smarter than the microwave!!?
This is all besides the point though. My friend Anna, she had a birthday. I made these delicious cake bites and a mini cake...

Cute huh? I actually got the cake recipe from my sister. Genius idea. The cake bites surrounding the mini cake were so good that the owner of the five-star restaurant actually wanted my recipe! hmm, leverage... this is good when there's food and wine involved! The recipe is originally from Bakerella, the cake pop queen. Basically, you buy a bag of Oreos, eat seven, crumble the rest and pour them into a large mixing bowl, then mix and mash 8oz of cream cheese in with the oreos until you have a chocolaty heap of deliciousness, and then form into balls, cool and dip.

Anyway that was February, this is May. The beginning of a new month! A glorious month I might add; I will graduate in May and can't wait to get back to the cities where my boyfriend, cat, and kitchen await me... another summer of homemade bread is just around the corner, I can smell it.

I had the opportunity to get a brief glimpse of summer recently while away from my studies for the weekend... I made cake pops! -and it was a success I might add, thank you very much (my first attempt at cake pops was a complete flop, check out my first post). The difference is that I tried to make the pops without Bakerella's Cake Pops book, now I have a copy. I recommend you don't try this without the book, it's bad for your self esteem and anyone near you.

I chose the color "orchid" for my candy coating. I thought it was fitting. The cake is a vanilla funfetti (yes, I used a box cake, I was ashamed to even walk up the the register with it. But it's what Bakerella recommends on your first try, so I followed command and look what I made! Proof that Bakerella knows best. There's also vanilla buttercream frosting mixed in with the cake - that's how you are able to form the round cake ball. Super tasty but not the best aesthetically. I was curious if the funfetti sprinkles would still show up after i created the cake balls... they don't. You just end up with a brownish vanilla cake. Oh well, I tried.

So these orchid-colored cake pops are my tribute to the almost-start of summer. Yay! I am anxious to jump into some of the more complex cake pop designs, so stay tunned for that!

Also, I have been working on my cake decorating skills and am anxious to put them to the test in a month when I will be making a massive high school graduation cake! The designing is currently under wraps. I can guarantee that it will be awesome though so stay tunned as i will be doing some test runs on the fondant (yes, I am braving that road again!) now that I have glucose syrup and glycerin.